The reform movement of the Catholic Enlightenment played a significant and leading role in reshaping the relationship between politics and religion in the modern period. It reflected in a fundamentally new way on the competing loyalties of the faithful to church and state, and this on a global scale – from Spanish Mexico via Habsburg Vienna to British-ruled Australia. The Catholic Enlightenment was a matter for the whole world church.
However, while currently flourishing, international research on the Catholic Enlightenment has not sufficiently investigated the strategies developed by Roman Catholics to reconcile their loyalty to the enlightened state on the one hand, with the church’s traditional form on the other. Which strategies helped in the search for a convincing new orientation?
A basic tenet of the project is that the same intellectual, religious and cultural processes that took place in Europe from the early 18th century then took place all over the world from 1750. Thus, the research project involves relevant scholars from the US, Europe and Australia who specialize in the study of how the Catholic Enlightenment was shaped from America to Australia. Key questions of the project are: How did Catholics from Brazil to Tuscany to Sydney reconcile their loyalty to the church with their allegiance to the state, be it in a Catholic empire (Spain, Portugal, Habsburg) or as a minority in a Protestant empire (e.g. the Irish, English or Australians). The project also explores how indigenous peoples negotiated these loyalties, especially those who found themselves in a doubly marginalized position: for example, the Australian Aborigines who became Catholic under Protestant British rule.
In the first phase of the project, the applicant Prof. Dr. Jürgen Overhoff will scrutinize the Australian archives (Perth and Sydney) between October and December 2023 to gain an insight into the early history of Catholicism in Australia in the context of the Catholic Enlightenment. This will result in the writing of two articles in the first half of 2024 to be published in international journals. Overhoff and colleagues Prof. Dr. Rebecca Messbarger (St. Louis, USA) and Prof. Dr. Shaun Blanchard (Fremantle, Australia) will then organize an international conference in St. Louis (27-28 September 2024), where scholars from across the world, including North and South America, Australia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Italy, Austria and Germany, will discuss and evaluate the Australian findings.
The range of expertise covered by these scholars includes the history of politics, race and gender, theology, material culture, art history, architecture and intellectual history. The traditional lecture sessions will be complemented by opportunities for intensive seminar discussions and informal networking and exchange. The organizers (Overhoff, Messbarger, Blanchard) believe that the time is ripe for such a conference, and that the anthology that will emerge from these papers (to be submitted to a major university publisher such as Toronto or Chicago) is likely to shape future scholarly discussion on Catholicism and the Enlightenment.